© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Missouri House Wants To Allow School Districts To Offer Elective Class On The Bible

House Republicans talk during the last day of the legislative session. May 17, 2017
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Members of the Missouri House have given initial approval to allowing school districts to offer an elective social studies class on the Bible.

Members of the Missouri House have given initial approval to allowing school districts to offer an elective social-studies class on the Bible.

It’s a proposal that drew praise, for offering students context on how the religious work affects society, and criticism, from lawmakers who believe it will plunge the state into needless litigation.

Rep. Ben Baker’s legislation would authorize school districts to offer an elective social-studies class on the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament of the Bible, or the New Testament of the Bible. Missouri House members gave initial approval to the Neosho Republican’s bill on Wednesday.

“So what’s happened with school districts that would like to offer this as an elective, their legal counsels are saying, ‘No, you can use it as a reference, but not as a full class or a full elective,’” Baker said. “So part of what I was trying to accomplish with this is to make it so that it’s very clear: That you can do a full elective bible class from a historical, literary perspective. And, that way, it will empower them to be able to do what they’re actually already allowed to do.”

Baker says the aim of the class would be to teach students how those books influenced society — and America’s founding fathers.

“That connection in of itself I think would help understand a lot of things: government, law, justice — you can go down the line,” Baker said. “There’s a lot of value there in understanding those, aside from being able to understand the culture around us.”

One point of contention during Wednesday’s debate was whether other religious texts should be included in a class. State Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would have allowed Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist works.

“I am especially sensitive about majorities dominating minorities. And our founders were especially concerned about majorities dominating majorities,” said Dogan, who is the only black Republican member of the Missouri House. “That’s why we don’t have a popular democracy for every issue. That’s why we have a representative democracy.

Asked why his bill didn’t include Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist scriptures, Baker said “in doing that, they were being exclusionary.”

“There’s more religious texts than that,” Baker said. “So it would be more exclusionary than the current law is. They can already teach any of those books that they want to as an elective or part of elective courses. And there’s value in those things. I do think there’s a difference, though, between all of those religious books and the influence of the Bible on our nation. So, I think our students need to know that.”

Critics of Baker’s bill contended that Missouri could open itself up to lawsuits.

“You know this is going to be challenged in court, and you know the state of Missouri is going to lose,” said state Rep. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City.

Baker’s bill still needs another vote before it can go before the Missouri Senate.

Follow Jason on Twitter:@jrosenbaum

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.